Anti-stereotypes in 'Blame it on the Heat'
MANILA, Philippines - Why do we stereotype? Simply Psychology lists these reasons:
- "It enables us to respond rapidly to situations because we may have had a similar experience before"
"It is a major way in which we simplify our social world, since stereotypes reduce the amount of processing we have to do when we meet a new person"
But in "Blame it on the Heat," Francesca Balaguer-Mercado’s debut exhibit at VASK Gallery in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, the artist known for her surrealist and pop art-inspired photographs takes inspiration from the stereotypes women are typically portrayed as. She turns them around with a macabre twist and a nod to classic pop art.
Using Jessica Hagedorn’s 1990 novel "Dogeaters" as a springboard, the characters in her 6-photograph exhibit feature women in traditional roles gone bad. “The book spoke to me the most because of the female characters,” Mercado tells Rappler. “When I was reading it I could imagine our current society, and that’s how I came up with these stereotypes.”
Dressed like a Stepford wife complete with a string of pearls and an apron, socialite and fashion entrepreneur Amina Aranaz-Alunan stands transfixed surrounded by doilies. Suspended in the jello she’s carrying is a gun.
In another photo, host and columnist Tessa Prieto-Valdes is made up like one of artist Roy Lichtenstein’s women, with red dots covering her entire face and body as she balances between several empty phone conversations.
San Vicente, Palawan Mayor Pie Alvarez kneels on a wooden pew, a rosary wrapped in her hands, a candle wax shoulder pad drips, while religious icons pray with her.
According to Mercado, “I kind of wanted it to be jarring when it jumps from one concept to another. I feel that in stereotypes, women aren’t given the chance to be in the middle area; it’s always black or white.
"You’re a femme fatale, the Stepford wife, the beauty queen, the rebel, the mother-daughter.”
Projected onto a column at the far end of the gallery are spliced scenes from old Filipino films starring the leading women of yore: a much younger Vilma Santos kicks a goon’s butt through a plaster wall as the original pebble-swallowing Darna, while Rita Gomez seductively lights a cigarette in the cult classic "Bomba Queen."
Mercado graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film and Audio Visual Communication from the University of the Philippines, Diliman in 2007. She then spent 5 years in San Francisco, earning a Master in Fine Arts Degree in Photography at the Academy of Art University.
While there, she exhibited some of her work and trained under surrealist photographer David LaChapelle in West Hollywood. "Blame in on the Heat" is Mercado’s first exhibit in the Philippines since her return in 2012.
“I love the fact that I got these ladies who, in society pages, are always portrayed in a certain light. I got to play with the perception people have of them.
"It was kind of cool that they could run with it, that they could also make fun of themselves,” says Mercado.
“When you say portraiture, it’s always about beauty and looking good. I love it that we got to experiment and really introduce this idea that I am taking a photo of you, but it can also be about another character.”
But as with all works of art, “It’s about having fun, and playing with the viewers’ imagination and how they relate to it.” - Rappler.com
'Blame it on the Heat' runs until August 12 at VASK Gallery, 5th Floor, Clipp Center, 11 Ave. and 39th St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. All makeup (except Mayor Pie Alvarez) by Georginna Desuasido, hair by Marvin Eustaquio. Styling, production design and photography by Francesca Balaguer-Mercado.
Peter Imbong is a fulltime freelance writer, sometimes a stylist; and on some strange nights, a host. After starting his career in a business magazine, he now writes about lifestyle, entertainment, fashion, and profiles of different personalities. Check out his blog, Peter Tries to Write.